“Turn your tongue seven times in your mouth before speaking”

In his article, “Why don’t the French speak English” in the Daily Beast, David Sessions uses anecdotal evidence of recent French faux paux (yeah I went there) in relation to English and political correspondence and highlights France’s poor showing in the TOEFL, English First speaking test, and the “European Survey on Language Competences.”

When speculating about why this might be the case, he quote’s Pamela Druckerman’s French-parenting guide Bringing Up Bébé,

“Even at home, we tend to teach children to be quiet, discreet, and not make too much noise,” Fleurot told me. “Perfect work is called sans faute in French, which is a negative way to go about it. And the expression, ‘turn your tongue seven times in your mouth before speaking’ reflects the idea that you shouldn’t speak unless you are really sure about what you are going to say. There are many small things like these that tend to show that our culture is less outgoing than, say, American culture, where kids are encouraged to speak out.”

In my experience, many English teachers don’t often realize the intricate relationship of one’s culture and the readiness, willingness, or sureness with which one speaks even in their 1st language. These cultural differences should be discussed and addressed and the learner should feel that he or she is making a choice to push against certain beliefs in order to progress in a different language that has different cultural implications. Foisting it upon them while making assumptions that non-Native English speakers have the same relationship to language as we do will not help.

Sessions also quotes a linguist to raise cultural judgments about pronunciation changes in English.

“Pronouncing English seems very hard to French students and very ‘funny,’” said Jean-Philippe Schmitt, a French professor at New York University and the founder of JP Linguistics. “For example, the th- sound seems in French like a speech impediment or lisp. French people really have to be willing to step out of their comfort zone to pronounce it.”

It amazes me how sensitive we are to certain sounds and how it can really make us feel something without even realizing it. If you are teaching a French learner of English the th sound and they believe that this makes them sound deficient, then your job as their pronunciation teacher will be all the more challenging. As Schmitt says, we all have to step out of our comfort zone to make such pronunciation changes laden with cultural judgments.

There are a few grammar forms in Korean such as 나요(nah-yo) where they are considered softer and are used mostly by women as opposed to men. I can’t tell you how uncomfortable it makes me feel to say this grammar form. I start to feel a tightness in my chest and my face gets hot. As a non-classically feminine woman, it is incredibly difficult for me to use this verb form. But sometimes, in situations in Korea, it’s necessary for me to use it in order get what I want. Out of one’s comfort zone, indeed.


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